Living Out Our ‘Identity of Love’

Artist Pat Pickett’s design for my 2022 word, “Adventure.” (Photo courtesy of Pat Picket)

I had a wonderful experience this weekend guiding a retreat I often offer in January called “Writing the Prologue to Your New Year.” Some 60 people joined me online. Something I ask each person to do is write a letter detailing how they envision the new year unfolding for them. I find wisdom in the saying, “Write it down, make it happen.”

I also ask everyone to choose a word they’d like to guide them through the year. Joanne Cahill, one of the retreatants, likened these words to “the star of the Magi” which led them to an astonishing revelation. Joanne chose “Otherness” as her word. She said she hopes it will become “a threshold place, a doorway to new insights, new practices, new ways of being in the world.”

Others selected equally meaningful words: Emergence, Exploration, Listen, Detachment, Discernment, Discipline, Create, Break-Through, Occupied, Present, Path, Spaciousness, Sun, Hope, Humility, Patience, Goodness, Wait, Non-judgmental, New as well as several beginning with “Re,” including Redeem, Rewire, Release, Revitalize and Resilience.

One of the retreat’s highlights came when visual artist Pat Pickett graciously offered to create an original design for each person’s word. Pat used human figures to form each letter in my word, “Adventure.” I like to think the idea came to her because people are such an important part of my life and the most significant part of any “adventure.”

“Every drawing brings out a prayer for that person,” Pat told me later.

Artist Pat Pickett: “I don’t write books but I do have art.”

Pat never asked me how many people were on the retreat and how many designs she would need to make. She never discussed being remunerated for her work — in fact, she rejected my offer to reimburse her for costs.

Pat’s offer was full of humility and grace. “This is a great opportunity for me,” she said. “I don’t write books but I do have art.”

So many of us have creative talents that we often either downplay or take for granted. Like the lamp under a basket in the gospels, these gifts aren’t supposed to be hidden. They are meant to be given away — extravagantly.

Do you knit? Can you sew or crochet? Do you draw, paint, or like to write? I still remember an elderly woman named Eva who attended a Lenten retreat I guided many years ago. Eva said she no longer sends flowers when a friend dies. She writes a poem for the family. “Poems,” she said, “last longer.”

Eva wasn’t about to hide her gifts under a basket.

Pat Leyko Connelly offers “haiku prayers” and photos on Facebook. The accompanying haiku said, “In Winter’s darkness/Gifts of light can still be found/Be still, look, and see.”

Another friend, Pat Leyko Connelly, has for years posted a three-line “haiku prayer” daily on Facebook, accompanied by a one of her photographs. No one demanded Pat do this. No one expects this of her. And Pat expects nothing in return. She does it for the sheer joy of giving.

I could go on indefinitely listing all the gifts of my friends.

In a way, this Sunday’s gospel, recounting the baptism of Jesus, is also about unbidden blessings. Our baptism is pure gift. It’s our initiation into the life of the Spirit — a sign that we were created for more than creature comforts and self-aggrandizement. We were made to be gift-bearers.

In his Facebook post on January 5, spiritual director Dan Frachey writes that baptism is “more than a kind of spiritual fairy dust … It is the utter grounding reality in our identity. It is the profound imprinting, the laying down of an indelible marker upon our spirits. We are thus configured for LOVE and are set aside for a courageous life to be lived out fiercely in that LOVE.”

“John the Baptist Baptising Jesus,” paintng by Greg. K. Olsen

We lean into our identity of love when we dare to give of ourselves. The reaction to Pat Pickett’s kind gesture on the weekend retreat was overwhelming gratitude. That is what I suspect most of us will find when we offer something of ourselves.

Pat Pickett’s website “Growing Color” will be available in March.

What are your gifts, your talents? In the new year unfolding, how can you extravagantly give them away?

One of Pat Pickett’s hand-dyed wool artworks. (Photo courtesy of Pat Pickett)

Visit Dan Frachey at

Find Pat Pickett at Her website Growing Color is currently under construction.

Visit Pat Lekko Connelly at




Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.

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Judith Valente

Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.

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